Skeptics and Atheists of Durango NEWSLETTER November 19, 2014

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango        November 19, 2014

Compiled by Larry Bollinger

“I don’t think we’re here for anything, we’re just products of evolution.  You can say ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose’, but I’m anticipating a good lunch”           –James Watson (Nobel prize winner and co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule).   Dr. Watson is a proponent of GMO foods, holding that the benefits far outweigh any plausible environmental damage.

On the Agenda for November’s Meeting      Member Joyce Fontana will lead this month’s discussion on the topic: Being Grateful.    Joyce notes, “The human behavior of gratitude spans cultures and religions over centuries.  It has now become a 21st century pop phenomenon.  But should we be asking: Is gratitude a moral obligation?  A virtue?  Does gratitude demand a recipient?”

Meeting, on Wednesday November 19th,  as usual, at Irish Embassy. Dinner, for those interested from 5:30PM.    Discussions at 6:30-ish.



Why God Won’t Go Away by Andrew Newberg   (recommended by Marc Masor).  Friday, December 12, 2014 at the Masor’s home (10 Pine Ridge Loop, Durango).       Why have we humans always longed to connect with something larger than ourselves? Even today in our technologically advanced age, more than seventy percent of Americans claim to believe in God. Why, in short, won’t God go away? In this groundbreaking new book, researchers Andrew Newberg and Eugene d’Aquili offer an explanation that is at once profoundly simple and scientifically precise: The religious impulse is rooted in the biology of the brain.    TO ATTEND, PLEASE RSVP AT MEETUP.COM 


The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell   Friday, January 23, 2015

Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris  Mon, Feb 23, 2015


Speaking of Books, This is the Best Book You’ll Probably Never Get to Read!    You never know what you’ll find deep in the pages of our own Durango Herald.  A few months ago, we found a book review extolling a historical novel based on the voyages of Charles Darwin on the Beagle.  Specifically, it’s the story of Robert Fitzroy, the 23-year old Captain of the Beagle and his friendship with Darwin which devolved into hatred as the years rolled by.  Based on notes and journals written by the participants, the reviewer highly recommended it to any reader who can find a copy.  It turns out that, although the book was only written 9 years ago, it is already out of print.  We Googled it and found a copy for sale somewhere in the UK; it arrived after a month or more…all 750 pages of it!  And I have to agree: it is a marvelous, appalling, entertaining, thrilling, disgusting, revealing book about the five-year voyage of discovery aboard the Beagle and all that transpired as a result.  Sadly, it is not available in quantities that would make it possible for our book club to enjoy.  We will have a single copy to loan once Carolyn has finished with it…but if the topic intrigues you, you might try your luck on The Google and find a copy of your own.


 Getting Testy About Radon       Radon gas is tasteless, odorless, and colorless.  It is the natural by-product uranium as it decays.  Radon is undetectable to human senses, is (5) times heavier than air and is soluble in water…well water can easily be contaminated with radon.  Radon is the largest cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and is prevalent in SW Colorado buildings.

I mention this because we tested our home in Durango West II after reading about the issue in the Durango Herald last January (  To our dismay, we discovered that our downstairs has actionable levels of radon gas present.  We are currently in the process of having a contractor ‘mitigate’ the problem by installing a system of pipes that will collect and divert the gas, venting it to the outside.     A test reading of 4.0 picocuries per liter and above indicates a need for mitigation…our two tests indicated 4.6 and 5.7 in two different downstairs rooms.  We have been advised that the amount of radon present in our basement (at times) does the equivalent lung damage of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day!  The Colorado state average for radon pollution is 6.0.  Interestingly, although LaPlata County has an increasing trend in lung cancer deaths, it is still below the state average.  Radon presence can vary greatly between locations, so you may or may not have the problem too!

Test for radon with a test kit available from Kansas State University for $25 including lab costs.  Go here to order test kits.  Tests are available in short or long term (one week to 90 days) versions.  The test unit is simply hung in the room to be tested and is left undisturbed for the length of the test.       The cost of mitigation is not prohibitive…in our case, we’ll spend around $2500.  We urge all S&AoD members to consider testing for this stalking killer in your home!

Here is an interesting link regarding health trends in our community: 


Global Warming      Senator Angus King (I-Maine) appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time a couple of weeks ago…he is distributing a carry-in-your-wallet card (reprinted below) that he called ‘…global warming in a nutshell’.  It documents the skyrocketing concentrations of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere.  Sure, CO2 has risen in Earth’s history before, BUT not this much and not this fast!  Print it and carry it with you as support for those spontaneous climate change debates you’ll be having with your cranky relatives at T’giving.Angus King Global Warming Wallet Card

If you are still a skeptic regarding climate change, here ( is all the information you need in one place: documentation of Earth’s rising temperature, the increase of atmospheric CO2, the disappearance of glaciers and the rise of sea level all since the advent of the industrial revolution.


 A Recurring Topic     Yes, it’s more bad news about vaccines!  Marc Masor sent this along for your consideration: the World Health Organization (WHO) has been conducting a world-wide anti-measles campaign.  The latest report is that the effort has stalled by lack of money, lack of interest and ignorance of the necessity of vaccination.

In 2013, a total of 145,700 children died due to measles…that represents an increase of nearly 24,000 child deaths from the previous year!  Since 2000, well over 15,000,000 lives have been saved via use of the measles vaccine.


Revisiting Assisted Suicide      This is another topic we’ve dealt with in our general meetings.  The topic is brought back to our attention by the plight of Brittany Maynard who moved to Oregon in order to take advantage of that state’s ‘Death With Dignity’ law.  She was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer and had only a few months to live (she was 29).  She died by her own hand on November 1, 2014.

Here are some Oregon Assisted Suicide stats compiled through 12/31/13 by Huffington Post:

— People who have used the law since late 1997: 752 (396 men, 356 women)

— People younger than 35 who have used the law: 6

— Median age of the deceased: 71

— Percentage of the deceased who were white: 97

— Percentage who had at least some college: 72

— Percentage of patients who informed relatives of their decision: 94

— Percentage of patients who died at a home: 95 percent

— Median minutes between ingestion of lethal drug and unconsciousness: 5

— Median minutes between ingestion and death: 25

— Number of terminally ill people who have moved to Oregon to die: unknown

You can read more about Death with Dignity laws around the nation:

and read more on Maynard’s story here:


Yes, She Did!  Oh No She Didn’t       When Houston (TX) area churches began to urge their congregations to resist new legislation expanding the civil rights of LGBT people, the city’s mayor demanded to review the sermons for violations of law:

But when the religious community became upset, she rescinded her order: 


10 U.S. Seminaries Awarded Grants for Science Education by AAAS      This sounds like a positive development!   The American Association for the Advancement of Science is awarding grants to some American seminaries to include ‘Science’ in their curricula.  Science education is often neglected in the training of religious professionals which is a shame since a study by the AAAS found that Protestant Americans, in particular, are more than twice as likely to consult a minister (!), religious text (!) or others in their congregaton (!) if they have any questions about Science!


Atheist Awarded Nearly $2,000,000    A man convicted of drug use was assigned to a drug rehab program as part of his parole agreement.  The program was of the ’12-step’ variety which requires that participants acknowlege a ‘higher power’.  An atheist, the man requested an alternative program but none was available.  When he was uncooperative, he was returned to jail for an additional three months.  He sued and won $1,000,000 from California and another $950,000 from the administrators of the rehab program.  There are more details to be had at the above link.


Interesting Video

  • Secrets of Food Marketing      All of our discussions about GMOs and food make this a very interesting 6-minute video.  Of particular interest is the audience reaction as the lecture goes on.


Pope Watch      No doubt about it, this is an interesting guy!  One foot in the medieval world and one foot in the 21st Century!


U.S. Bishops Back Unitlateral Action by President Obama on Immigration Reform    The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.


Stupid News:

  • An Angry Atheist?  Nope. you hear about the moron who drove his car up the steps of Oklahoma’s state capitol to destroy a stone monument commemorating The Ten Commandments?  Everyone assumed that this was some disgruntled atheist, despite the fact that he claimed it was Satan who ordered the act of demolition.  Turns out that his Mom says he ‘…is a devout Christian’.  The Governor says the monument will be re-built.
  • Dad Pulls Son From History Class Because of Religious Objections    An outraged father pulled his son from his middle school’s history class because the class was being taught the five pillars of Islam.  “No religion should be taught at school. In their paper it says Allah is their only God. That’s insulting to me as a Christian who believes in just Jesus only,” said Anthony Giannino.

    letter from various community groups released last week expressed support for the school district.  “Teaching about the world’s religions, including Islam, is widely recognized as a lawful and important part of a quality education in the public schools,” says the letter, which was endorsed by groups representing Revere parents and students as well as the Islamic Council of New England.

  • Douglas County, Colorado School District sued by American Humanist Society     The lawsuit challenges the public school district’s repeated practice of promoting and supporting programs that proselytize Christianity. Among the violations, the school district actively promoted and engaged in a program run by the evangelical Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse. Called Operation Christmas Child, the program uses gift packages with Christian messages to persuade children in developing nations to convert to Christianity. Samaritan’s Purse is led by evangelical minister Franklin Graham.




Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango Newsletter with the permission of the cartoonist, Ruben Bolling.

See more Tom the Dancing Bug at

Are there any announcements, anniversaries, activities or other tidbits you’d like your fellow Skeptics and Atheists to know about?

Drop an email to with your information so that it can be included in the next newsletter!


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